Toxic v. Toxic

51v6yCFQBFL._SX466_Unpopular opinion: there’s no such thing as a toxic person. There is only toxic behavior.

Let me be clear from the beginning, everyone has the right to move away from those that have wronged or hurt them. Nobody should be expected to tolerate that which is abusive, cruel or inhuman treatment.

With that now stated: Naming someone a ‘toxic person’ is another example of the use of adjectives to annihilate the individual and to demolish responsibility. The irony of our modern world and its ‘triumph of the subjective’ is that we believe we should be free of objective sentiments, whilst continuing to use simplistic, over-arching descriptors when it comes to other people we don’t understand or care for.

Use of this occurs in describing people with chemical dependencies as ‘junkies’ or ‘alcoholics’. ‘Crazy people’ are used for those with mental health challenges. ‘Immigrants’ when we want to bundle entire swathes of different people into convenient political talking points. ‘Angry black people’ when we experience discomfort and don’t wish to acknowledge the systemic abuse against of an entire segment of American society. ‘French’ or ‘English’ or ‘South African’ so we can galvanize social will towards some nationalistic end.

(Some of these are less dangerous, like ‘suburbanites’, ‘Packers fans’, New Yorkers, or ‘iPhone users’. I do acknowledge that occasional bursts of pride or points of mild ridicule is the bread and butter of social existence)

It makes sense why we do this, and clue is provided in the last couple of labels. It’s an element of tribalism, the age-old ‘us vs. them’ dynamic. When it comes to more insidious labels, like ‘crazy people’ it takes on the air of “I’m not like that…”, or “I would never…”, or “those people”. It’s yet another mechanism to strip people, circumstances and behavior, of nuance and complexity for the sake of not having to confront the source of the concern. To remove any redeeming element, and more importantly, remove the personal confrontation of the uncomfortable truth that we can also, at times, be perpetrators of that which we have labeled poor behavior.

In the case of toxicity specifically, it’s often used to silence the accused. It’s the final verdict without judge or jury, sometimes without evidence, and its sledgehammer finality concludes any discussion and quiets dissent. “This person is toxic, strike them from your lives, they are beyond redemption, and deserve only pity, anger and dismissal.” Naming someone as such ignores the concept of change, and can in some cases eliminate the notion of responsibility for improvement away from certain actions.

We’ve committed this kind of label-crime since there have been humans shuffling around on the plains, and every time, we’ve found ourselves to be wrong. We’ve got a long way to go, but we’re making progress. Those convicted of crimes (criminals) are people too (surprise surprise), and addressing the root causes of societal and personal issues can reduce infractions. People facing mental health challenges can seek and receive treatment rather than being socially ostracized. People with suffering from substance abuse problems often reveal deep rooted challenges that can be addressed. People with racial prejudices are now seen as manifestations of ingrained cultural poisoning.

Living in contemporary society is a series of reveals, exposing labels in an ongoing process as misplaced, generalized, scientifically untrue, convenient, dangerous, pointless, segregationist, dismissive, nationalist. And now, we need to learn (among many, many other things) that abusive behaviors are the result of caustic psychological trauma through early development.

Again, to state, no-one should have to endure the crimes of perpetrated toxic behavior. But social media (as the biggest culprit) should not be used as a vehicle to commit yet another example of label crime. Shoving people into corners has never, ever worked to eliminate problems, or fix perceived issues. It’s not the duty of the abused to do the kind of work to figure out the roots of a perpetrators actions, but we all have to make sure to at least consider the aggressor as a human capable of change.


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